Lesson Plan

Art and Archeology: “Crashing the Gates” with Ann Axtell Morris

Ann Axtell Morris painting on an archeological site.
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.7, 6.RI.7
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

Who was Ann Axtell Morris? What were her methods to study and preserve archeological resources? Why is her legacy important to both women’s history and archeological preservation?

Este plan de clase con actividades incluido también está disponible en español.


“Crashing the Gates” is a series of lesson plans about three of the earliest female archeologists who worked with the National Park Service. Students will learn about Ann Axtell Morris: “archeologist, artist, and author." It teaches students about Morris and the methods she used when analyzing archeological sites, specifically photography and illustration. It then prompts students to attempt these techniques themselves.


In the last two centuries, societal gender biases have proved challenging for American women. Around the turn of the 20th century, this was especially true for women seeking to enter the traditionally male-dominated field of archeology. Those that did often had their work become overshadowed by that of their male counterparts. This lesson plan focuses on Ann Axtell Morris, one of the early pioneers who cracked the traditional “women’s work” ideology and paved the way for future female scholars by becoming a successful archeologist in her own right. She and the other two women featured in this lesson plan series made important contributions to the field of archeology and their original methods are still used today.

“Crashing the Gates” is a series of lesson plans about three of the earliest female archeologists who worked with the National Park Service: Ann Axtell Morris, Florence Hawley Ellis, and Bertha Dutton. The lessons within this series accomplish three goals. First, they contribute to the wider theme of women’s history by noting the difficulties these three and other 19th- and 20th-century women faced when choosing a career path. Second, they promote the National Park Service mission of resource management and education by teaching about women’s lasting impacts on cultural resource preservation and public education. Third, through activities based on archeological methodologies, they enhance students’ own analytical skillsets. After completing these lessons, students will have learned who these three women were, applied some of their techniques, and gained understanding about why their work was so important. These lessons can be completed as a series or stand-alone lessons.


Students will need pencils or pens and scrap paper.


Download Ann Axtell Morris Student Handout

Download En Español: Arte y arqueología: rompiendo barreras con Ann Axtell Morris

Download En Español: Materiales educativos para estudiantes


Step 1: Provide each student with a printed copy of the file, "Ann Axtell Morris Student Handout."

Step 2: Have students read the provided background information about traditional 19th- and 20th-century women’s roles, archeology as a field, and Ann Axtell Morris and her methods either out loud or silently. After each section, talk with the students about the main points.

Step 3: Have the students complete the activities focusing on archeological methods. Review their answers as a group.


Archeology: the study of people within the past

Artifact: an object made and used by people within the past

Context: where an object was found in the ground including depth and surrounding objects

Ethnography: scientific study of people and culture, especially through direct observation

Feature: as opposed to portable artifacts, these are the non-portable parts of an archeological site such as walls, hearths, or trash pits

Petroglyph: symbolic image carved into rock

Pictograph: drawn or painted symbol that stands for an idea or a concept

Supports for Struggling Learners

Teachers can ask students to read the text out loud. After each section, teachers can review the main points with the students.

Enrichment Activities

Ask students to research one of the following women and write their own short biography of them.

  • Sarah “Sallie” Pierce Brewer Harris: the first permanent female Ranger in the Southwest, one of many National Park Service’s “Honorary Custodians Without Pay” who lived at and interpreted archeological sites.
  • Jean McWhirt Pinkley: chief of interpretation at Mesa Verde and one of the managers for the largest-ever National Park Service archeological excavation
  • Virginia Sutton Harrington: the first female Ranger-historian employed by the National Park Service who championed archeological education for the public at Jamestown Fort

Additional Resources

Ann Axtell Morris. Aztec Ruins National Monument. National Park Service.

Kaufman, Polly Welts. National Parks and the Woman’s Voice: A History. University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Grant, Campbell. Canyon de Chelly: Its People and Rock Art. University of Arizona Press, 1979.

Hays-Gilpin, Kelley, Ann Cordy Deegan, and Elizabeth Ann Morris. “Prehistoric Sandals from Northeastern Arizona: The Earl H. Morris and Ann Axtell Morris Research.” University of Arizona Press, 1998.

Lister, Florence C. and Robert H. Earl Morris and Southwestern Archeology. University of New Mexico Press, 1968.

Mandelson, Dayle A. “Women’s Changing Labor-Force Participation in the United States.” In Women and Work: A Handbook. Paula J Dubeck and Kathryn Borman, editors, pp. 3-6.

Morris, Ann Axtell. Digging in the Southwest. Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1978.

National Trust for Historic Preservation, Women’s Heritage Stories website.

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Explore other lesson plans in the "Crashing the Gates" series:

Middens and Math: “Crashing the Gates” with Florence Hawley Ellis

Scouts and Shovels: “Crashing the Gates” with Bertha Dutton

Contact Information

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Last updated: April 1, 2021